Turmeric and Cataracts

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Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is the clear part of the eye that focuses images on the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. In a person with normal vision and healthy eyes, light passes through the lens to the retina. The retina converts the light into nerve signals, which are then sent to the brain. However, in order for the retina to receive and send a sharp image, the lens of the eye must clear. If it is cloudy, due to a cataract, the image will appear blurry and out of focus. These “clouds” are typically caused by a build-up of the normal proteins that, along with water, form the main component of the lens. The clumping action of the protein causes small spots, or clouds, to form on the lens and disrupt vision.

Common symptoms of cataracts include blurred or double vision, glare, poor night vision, the perception of colors as being “faded,” and frequent eyeglass prescription changes. Mild cataracts are usually corrected by stronger glasses and brighter lighting. More serious cataracts can be fixed with surgery, which involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an artificial one.

Cataracts are very common in older people, affecting approximately half of Americans over the age of 80. The condition develops gradually and is usually due to the natural effects of aging. However, other types of cataracts exist and can be attributed to a variety of causes, from birth defects to eye injuries to exposure to radiation. Smoking is thought to play a significant role in the development of cataracts. Diabetes, which can cause blindness, is also known to be a contributing factor in cataract formation.

It is this kind of cataract that has prompted studies by researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition, in Hyderabad, India. In a recent study to determine “the effect of curcumin and its source, turmeric, on streptozotocin-induced diabetic cataract in rats,” a team led by Dr. G. Bhanuprakash Reddy injected rats with streptozotocin to simulate diabetes. The rats were then grouped by diet and monitored with regard to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and cataract progression. The rats were fed different concentrations of curcumin, ranging from none to 0.5%. At the end of eight weeks, the rats were euthanized and their bodies examined to determine if turmeric and curcumin had accomplished either a decrease in blood sugar levels or a reduction in cataracts. The results of the study showed that, while neither turmeric nor curcumin was successful in preventing hyperglycemia, both substances significantly delayed the progression of cataracts. This led the team to conclude that turmeric, and its active compound, curcumin, is effective in preventing diabetic cataracts in rats and may have similar uses in humans.

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